Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala
Question: Who is better to give my zakat to: (1) a Muslim working on a project for an impoverished nation, (2) an imam in an impoverished country building a mosque, (3) to a mosque in an impoverished nation , or (4) to a friend who is extremely poor?
In regard to the Muslim’s project, he has a stronger conviction since the project is more personal for him. He says 25% of my income would be sufficient. Our communication has become strained due to my hesitance and often he throws insults my way.
Also, how can I give charity and avoid vanity?
Please advise me regarding these matters.
Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
Firstly, I pray that Allah provide you with much wisdom, increase you in guidance, shower you in His grace and blessings.
Introduction – General Conditions of Zakat
When it comes to zakat, the eligible recipients include: the poor, the indigent (who possess less than the nisab), those with overwhelming debt, and travelers cut off from their wealth at home.
It cannot be given to non-Muslims, the wealthy, Hashimis (those from the Prophet’s clan), and certain relatives (parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and spouses). It also cannot be used to pay off the debt of the deceased. [Shurunbulali, Ascent to Felicity]
One of the conditions of zakat is that it entails a transfer of ownership to an individual; as such, we cannot use our zakat to pay for the construction or support of Islamic institutions. Rather, this money goes specifically to the individuals listed above.
Who can receive my zakat?
You mention four possibilities: a) the Muslim working on a project, b) the Imam building a mosque, c) an impoverished mosque, or d) a poor friend.
– For the first 2 (the Muslim and the Imam), zakat would only be permissible if you are giving the money to them, and not their efforts (the project/mosque). You need to ensure that they are poor or indigent, meaning they have less than the nisab.*
– For the third (the mosque), zakat is impermissible, so any money given to it will count as sadaqa.
– For the fourth (the friend), zakat is permissible so long as that person is Muslim and possesses less than the nisab amount.
If, after taking into account the above considerations, you still have more than one choice, then you can give the zakat to whomever you please, and you can even split it between multiple recipients.
*The nisab amount today (April 16, 2012) is around $4943. Remember that the nisab does not include daily essentials (residence, clothing, furniture, transportation, etc.). [Check http://www.e-nisab.com/ for up-to-date calculations]
Although the choice is yours, I would specifically recommend that you give a good portion of your zakat to local people and causes. Giving zakat in this manner fulfills local needs that would otherwise not be met, and it also increases the bonds of brotherhood and love within the Muslim community.
Assuming that your friend (option 4) is eligible for zakat, then that person would probably be the most deserving of your zakat given the above considerations. Of course, this is a weighty decision, so consider your options, pray istikhara, and then pay your zakat, and insha’Allah it will be of maximum benefit both in this world and the next.
Giving Charity to a Mosque
As you mentioned, giving the money towards building a mosque is considered voluntary charity (saqada) and not zakat. The amount you give is up to you, and remember that every dollar you give carries with it a major reward. Indeed, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told us that “The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his charity.” [al-Tirmidhi]
If you fear vanity, find a way to give the money anonymously. If you cannot do that, then make dua asking Allah for protection from vanity before you give it.
Someone Demanding Your Charity
If I understand this scenario correctly, you did not make any promises or guarantees to fund the project, yet money is being demanded from you. If this is the case, then there is no requirement for you to give to the project. The question of whether you helped the project in the past is irrelevant. The money is under your possession, so only you have the final say as to where it goes.
As for the person asking for the money, he has no right to demand money from you for this project, and 25% is a very large portion to demand or expect from someone. Based on your description of this person, I would actually advise against working with him. By insulting you and demanding large portions of your money, he is displaying very poor adab (Islamic etiquette). This casts doubt on his ability to handle your money in a proper manner as well.
Be Mindful of Who Handles Your Donations
I highly advise you to give your sadaqa (voluntary charity) to more reputable organizations and products run by Muslims who are trustworthy and have good character. Only give what you are comfortable in giving: 25% is a very large amount of one’s income, and oftentimes that conflicts with one’s obligations to supporting themselves, their families, day to day needs, and maintaining extra funds for emergencies.
I therefore encourage you to be generous, but in a manner that takes into account those other financial necessities that you may have. Remember that the Prophet (peace be upon him) advised us to “tie our camel” as well as to “rely on God”, meaning that we take the necessary precautions to safeguard ourselves and our property while also realizing that all of it comes from Allah. [Sunan al-Tirmidhi]
Conclusion – The Prophetic Understanding of Charity
After paying your required zakat to someone who is eligible, the amount of money you give in charity, and who you give it to, is your choice. The sunnah is to give much in charity and to give not just your money, but also your time and your sincere concern as well. He (peace be upon him) said that even if you have no money to give, simply doing the good and refraining from the evil can be considered a form of charity. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
I pray that Allah guides us to be more generous, and that He makes our matters easy for us. And Allah knows best.
Baarak Allahu Fikum,
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani